Appreciating All Pets! (National Love Your Pet Day)

In Lifestyle, Separation & Divorce by Elizabeth Stephenson

Tuesday, February 20th is Love Your Pet Day, a day that is arguably more important than Valentine’s Day—at least to animal lovers! To mark the occasion, we would encourage you to spend the day spoiling your loving companion(s). Try a pet spa, make them a fancy meal, and let them break a rule or two.

Pet Custody and Divorce

If you think about it, human relationships may be fleeting, but your animal will love you for its entire life. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a cat or dog to have known several of your partners in its lifetime. For married couples, animals also have a unique connection with your children, as you watch them grow, bond, and age together. Therefore, when it comes to family pets and divorce, things can become incredibly emotional and contentious.

Our pets are important to us, and they are very much a part of our family units. In fact, many people believe that when they decide to divorce, pet custody is going to be a big part of the considerations—similar to child custody.

In fact, you may remember Disney movies like “Air Bud”, or television shows that involve a pet trial. In these fictional situations, a judge hears the testimony of the people fighting for the pet and how much they love the animal. Then, in a dramatic twist, the judge lets the dog or cat decide where it wants to go and the animal looks cautiously back and forth before going toward the person it loves most.

None of this happens in North Carolina family courts. Under North Carolina law, there really is no such thing as “pet custody”. This is because contrary to reality, pets are treated as property instead of beloved members of our family. As such, the only time the pet is a subject of a legal proceeding is during property division proceedings.

Therefore, courts will not consider any testimony regarding the best interest of the pet, or who is the pet’s caregiver, or who the pet is most attached to. Instead, the sole considerations are whether one spouse owned the pet prior to the marriage. Or, if the pet was acquired during the marriage, then the court will consider evidence of the fair market value of the pet as part of its equitable division of marital property.

In reality, arrangements regarding pets following a separation or divorce are best handled by a separation agreement or contractual agreement between the spouses. However, it is important for each spouse to weigh any sort of continued visitation plan for the pet, as it creates continued exposure between the spouses that may not be healthy for either.

New Direction Family Law

If you are considering a divorce, contact New Direction Family Law. We understand how important your children, your property, and your pets are to you. We take our duties to our clients very seriously and will fight for your legal rights. We strive to provide our clients with smart, effective, and compassionate legal representation. Call New Direction Family Law today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or contact us at our website.